Illustration by Agathe Dananai
In the last few years, I have been reading more about supporting sustainable fashion and have become increasingly aware and outraged by both the environmental damage and human exploitation caused by the fast fashion industry.
Doing some research, I found that one of the most accessible ways to become more sustainable is sourcing items second hand, a common method of which is charity shopping. As a plus size woman however, it is extremely hard to browse shops and websites to find fashionable garments that don’t look like they belong in my grandma’s closet. We all have that one friend that always seems to find incredible clothes at the vintage kilo, or designer items for a fraction of the price - but as an 18 sized woman, I always felt excluded from these conversations. Whenever I tried to look through charity shops with my friends, I’d always leave the store feeling uncomfortable, unhappy, and embarrassed.
Fast fashion companies have just recently been offering plus size options, and by the time those garments are ready to be passed on they are most likely ready for the bin: after all, fast fashion isn’t known for its quality. Brands that do pass the test of time and end up in charity shops are very rarely sizes 16 and up, as most affordable brands that don’t fall into the fast fashion category don’t cater for those who wear a bigger size than a Large.
While there are some sustainable brands that do cater for plus size people (you can find loads here: https://directory.goodonyou.eco/categories/plus-size), these are brands that have to be researched, so not immediately accessible, and they aren’t exactly affordable for a person living on minimum wage. Not everyone can afford to spend £60 on a blouse or £200 on a pair of jeans. This being said, the cost of eco-conscious garments also reflects a commitment to being greener and to paying workers fairly. I, like many, am unable to justify these costs, and although someone of a smaller size can find incredible, sustainable second-hand clothes in charity shops, plus size people find it more difficult.
If the sizing issue with brands wasn’t enough, the ‘oversized’ trend is making more straight sized women buy larger clothes to achieve a baggy look, leaving them unavailable to us bigger women. When thinner women buy larger clothes because they are following trends, or to upcycle the items, it detracts from the already limited choice we have.
Size inequality isn’t something I dwell upon when I can’t find my size in a store, but it is in fact a type of discrimination, because somehow - even though the average UK woman dresses a size 16 - there are still brands that don’t acknowledge what should be their target audience. Because of this inequality, I believe people should try and be more considerate when charity shopping, because they could potentially be taking away someone’s only choice. When talking to my straight-sized friends, this is a hard conversation to have, because it can be embarrassing to talk about how I can’t find anything because of my body type. But then I realised that plus size people and women are always taught to be ashamed of how they look and carry themselves, or of being a ‘big’ size. But don’t we have a right to have these discussions and become part of this conversation? Size inequality takes this right away from us.
Fast fashion is unfortunately the only choice me and many plus sized women are left with: with more affordable sustainable brands excluding plus sizes from their ranges, and close to no choice in charity shops, we seldom have affordable options to choose from when buying clothes. Fatphobia in the fashion industry is still a big problem, and although recently there have been more steps to make fashion more inclusive, plus size women are still not 100% included in the sustainability conversation.
So as we dream of a plus size charity shop opening in the U.K., there are still options for those looking to shop plus size sustainably: online shops where people can find plus sized second hand garments include Shelter, Thriftify, Re-fashion, Ebloggers, and Vinted. Although their selection is limited, they do offer up to 4XL sizes and clothes up to a size 30.
Everybody needs clothes: clothes are an essential part of our personalities as it is the first thing people perceive about us. So many times I have wished I could express my personality, my mood, and my values through my clothes, like most people are able to do. I wish I could participate in sustainable clothes shopping, and find an amazing dress or skirt in a charity shop, or support brands that are focused on making fashion greener and more fair for the people that work within it. But until the clothes I wish I could wear are available to me, this is a liberty I don’t have. Until brands understand that they need to be more inclusive in their sizing, and not treat plus size people as an afterthought, there won’t be any awareness or focus on sustainability shopping for us. Until we are treated like people that can and want to spend their money where their values lie, we can’t contribute to this conversation, feeding into stigma and making something inconsequential like our size an obstacle.
Article by Anna Crysel